Looking for a College or University

1. Think about where you want to go. West Coast? East Coast? Midwest? South? Canada? Overseas?

2. Think about how big a school you want.

3. Do you prefer to live in a small town, a medium-sized city, or a large urban area?

4. Strongly consider a small, liberal arts college. Such schools exist only […]

My graduation speech

I’ll begin with a story.

One of my former university professors came to see me years ago for advice about starting a garden in his back yard. As we talked, I realized that he had no interest in gardening: he only wanted giant broccoli and giant strawberries. So I said to him, “Find a really […]

Paul Graham: “What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?”

Another nice little essay by Paul Graham. As always, he is interested in what typically goes unnoticed. This one may help you—if you are young enough—think about what sort of career would suit you.


Research: what are ‘credible sources’?

Students doing research for an Extended Essay, or in preparation for an IB English Interactive Oral, or for any other research project, need to use credible sources.

But what exactly is a credible source?

Basically you are looking for information written by someone who has some special training or expertise in the subject you are […]

Never Give Up: An Inspiring Story

In the summer of 2011 came an email message from one of the first students I taught, way back in 1983 in a suburban public high school. Kathy had found me through a classmate’s Facebook page, and wanted to let me know what she had been doing for the past quarter-century.

Honestly, I remembered very […]

The Intentional Fallacy: it doesn’t matter what the author intended

First: we can never know what the author intended. Even if we ask the author in person, we cannot know whether the answer we hear is sincere, or truthful. It gets worse: the author himself cannot know with certainty what impelled him to write this or that. Why did I eat oatmeal for breakfast? […]

‘Hamlet: The Happy Ending’

Some of my students were devastated to discover that Hamlet dies at the end of the play, so I have obliged their tender sensibilities with this additional scene. —etm


Scene: Wittenberg. A room in an inn.

HORATIO But how is this possible?!

HAMLET ‘Season your admiration’, good friend. In short, by a hair’s breadth […]

Ugly word of the day: “societal”

From DailyWritingTips.com:

What’s the difference between social and societal? Not much, but enough that you may become the victim of social stigma if you ignore subtle societal signals.

Societal is the pedantic alternative to social. . . .

I couldn’t agree more, having read hundreds of teeth-grating essays filled with “societal” this and “societal” […]

Shakespeare changes your brain

“How Shakespeare Changes Us”, at lit-hum.org. The first comment is worth a look, too.

Good Advice About Bad Writing

“Good Advice About Bad Writing”, from DailyWritingTips.com.

Brief, clear, and to the point.

A Slow-Books Manifesto: Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.

From The Atlantic, a piece worth reading by Maura Kelly. Here’s a taste:

Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories […]

Andy Ihnatko: There Is No Such Thing As Writer’s Block!

A great piece that ought to be printed out and put on the wall next to every writer’s desk. That includes you, students.


Reading (Again): great advice for literature students

I just came across this blog post by Barbara Kerley. Although aimed at people learning to write fiction, it matches exactly the advice I give to students in my literature classes, especially at the IB Diploma level, where they need to analyze how the authors’ choices and techniques produce the effects we see in the […]

Does reading great literature make us pessimistic?

Here’s what David Carl, a teacher at St. John’s College, answered in an email message to one of his students:

In general, our encounter with great works should tend to make us hopeful, and therefore optimistic. I have the words of several authors in mind when I assert this, such as Montaigne (“The profit […]

Do university students learn anything? It depends.

I am usually wary of stories in the U.S. media about education issues—almost always I find distortion and oversimplification.

This piece by the Associated Press is no exception, but it caught my eye, particularly these two findings from the report it cites:

_Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and […]

The Blue Pencil Online: a literary magazine for students, edited & published by students

High school writers looking for a place to publish their work should have a look at The Blue Pencil Online, a project of the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, in Natick, Massachusetts (USA). Their standards appear to be quite high, so for a young writer of real talent and ambition, the Blue Pencil just […]

How to improve your English


Students sometimes ask, “Mr. MacKnight, how can I improve my grammar?” Here’s how. 1. Read every day!

There is no substitute for daily reading. Choose books you like: if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t read. Students who are non-readers will never become fluent writers, because only through years of reading do we develop […]

The Class of 2010

Click on the photo to see it full-sized.

The Class of 2010

12E in caps and gowns :)

Don't use study guides!

We’re talking about SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, York Notes, and all such similar shortcuts used by lazy and/or desperate and/or insecure students.

Inspired partly by an online discussion among IB English teachers and partly by my own students, I’ve added a page to my English A1 class blog that makes things as clear as I can […]

SAT scores: not the last word

This may surprise you:

[Students who don’t submit SAT scores when they apply to university], with significantly lower SATs, earn [university] G.P.A.’s that are within five one-hundredths of a G.P.A. point of submitters, and graduate at rates within one-tenth of 1 percent of submitters.

This comes from the former head of admissions at Bates […]

Great Podcasts #4: BBC World Book Club

Harriet Gilbert hosts monthly interviews with contemporary authors that feature questions from both a live audience and BBC World Service listeners from all over the world. Recent programs have featured writers such as Nawal El Sadaawi, David Guterson, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, Alice Walker, Annie Proulx, and Chinua Achebe. Highly recommended!

As always, you can […]

Summer writing help

All of my Gr. 11—>Gr. 12 students in English A1, and all Gr. 10—>Gr. 11 students going into English A1 are invited to work on their writing this summer through email tutorials.

Just send me a paragraph as an email attachment. I will mark it up with comments and suggestions and send it back to […]

Great Podcasts #2: Writers & Company

Eleanor Wachtel interviews writers on her Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, “Writers & Company”. She and Leonard Lopate are the two best interviewers I know. She talks with famous and not-so-famous authors, and their conversations are invariably interesting and informative. Few ‘media personalities’ are as well-informed as Wachtel. Older students in top-level literature classes will find […]

On stories

From the archives . . .

When we tell stories, or read or watch or listen to stories, we are (in part) searching for our own story: the story that will explain to us who we are, where we are going, and why; the story that will make sense of the world we live […]

Ancient Greece, Modern Readers

A man unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother, fulfilling a prophecy made years before. When he discovers what he has done, he gouges his eyes out with his mother/wife’s hairpins. A young woman defies the law and risks her life to give her brother’s body a proper burial. The general of an allied […]

A quotation for Natasha . . .

. . . who complained today, at a moment when everyone was working in silence, that the class was ‘boring’:

Perhaps in the end the question one should ask of any scholar is what purpose he feels his work serves. I could claim great nobility of character and tell you that I work for the […]

Wordle: toy or tool?

I just began playing with Wordle, a web app that takes any text and turns it into a graphic ‘word cloud’, with each word a different size based on how often it’s used in the text.

I tried it out with a student’s essay comparing two WWI poems: Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ and Wilfrid Owen’s […]


Our diction—choice of words—can dramatically alter the effect of what we say or write, even though the literal meanings of two optional wordings are identical. My students and I often contemplate the effects of diction in literature, but today I found a nice example from the world of politics in an article about the current […]

Simple English Wikipedia

Designed for “children and adults learning English”, this might be just the thing for ESL teachers and students.

Check it out here.

Strunk & White's 'Elements of Style'

The best little book about writing well has been given a new review in the Washington Post by Jonathan Yardley, including a list of available editions.

Yardley also points out that Strunk’s original 1918 ‘little book’ is available for free online on Bartleby.com.

Students in Grade 9 and up, and especially anyone needing to […]

Commencement Address


I’ll begin with a story. One of my former university professors came to see me years ago for advice about starting a garden in his back yard. As we talked, I realized that he had no interest in gardening: he only wanted giant broccoli and giant strawberries. So I said to him, “Find a […]

Common errors in English

Arguing with a friend about what’s correct, or incorrect? Willing to bet you’re right? Check Professor Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English before you put your money on the table.

And have a great holiday, everyone!

Back-to-school advice . . .

. . . on the Good Habits Blog.

Writing in the Garden

On June 13 about 35 students spent the whole morning in the SSIS Garden, just observing and making notes. Some sat and wrote; some walked around, exploring; others chased insects, or dug holes in search of earthworms. After lunch they sat in classrooms and wrote poems, stories, and essays inspired by their morning’s observations.

They […]

Students: how to reduce stress, earn higher grades

VeryWell.com has some useful advice for students about how to keep stress levels down and achieve better results. Thanks to Lifehacker for pointing to this.

Physics on the web

High school physics students may want to have a look at The Physics Classroom. If you have missed too many classes, or your teacher has an incomprehensible accent—or you just want another way to review—this site may be exactly what you need.

Art history online: resource for students

Art in the Picture, an art history web site, will interest students of art and anyone else curious about Western art. (Nothing, alas, on Asian, African, or other non-European art. If you can suggest a good site for those, please leave a comment.)

Are you open to new experiences?

According to a study by an American psychologist,

It appears that at younger ages, openness to experience is the most important personality factor correlating with the attainment of facts, vocabulary, and book learning.

So if you are not by nature attracted to new experiences, make an effort and develop the habit of being more open […]

Hear the word of the day

Merriam-Webster offers a Word of the Day that you can listen to online, or download as a free podcast. If you use iTunes, it’s available there, too. In either form you can read the text and listen to it at the same time—a big help if you’re not sure how to pronounce the word. Recommended!


Good Habits, Good Students

"It’s simply awesome and highly inspirational. Thank you so much for this book." —Student in Grade 9.

Click here for info. Available now from most online booksellers or by special order from your local bookshop.



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